The Mill Mystery
2. A Fearful Question
Nay, yet there's more in this:
I pray thee, speak to me as to thy thinkings,
As thou dost ruminate; and give thy worst of thoughts
The worst of words.
My room-mate was, as I have intimated, exceedingly frail and unobtrusive in
appearance; yet when we came upon this scene, the group of men about the
inanimate form of her lover parted involuntarily as if a spirit had come upon them;
though I do not think one of them, until that moment, had any suspicion of the
relations between her and their young pastor. Being close behind her, I pressed
forward too, and so it happened that I stood by her side when her gaze first fell
upon her dead lover. Never shall I forget the cry she uttered, or the solemn
silence that fell over all, as her hand, rigid and white as that of a ghost's, slowly
rose and pointed with awful question at the pallid brow upturned before her. It
seemed as if a spell had fallen, enchaining the roughest there from answering,
for the truth was terrible, and we knew it; else why those dripping locks and
heavily soaked garments oozing, not with the limpid waters of the stream we
could faintly hear gurgling in the distance, but with some fearful substance that
dyed the forehead blue and left upon the grass a dark stain that floods of rain
would scarcely wash away?
"What is it? Oh, what does it mean?" she faintly gasped, shuddering backward
with wondering dread as one of those tiny streams of strange blue moisture
found its way to her feet.
Still that ominous silence.
"Oh, I must know!" she whispered. "I was his betrothed"; and her eyes wandered
for a moment with a wild appeal upon those about her.
Whereupon a kindly voice spoke up. "He has been drowned, miss. The blue----"
and there he hesitated.
"The blue is from the remains of some old dye that must have been in the bottom
of the vat out of which we drew him," another voice went on.
"The vat!" she repeated. "The vat! Was he found----"
"In the vat? Yes, miss." And there the silence fell again.
It was no wonder. For a man like him, alert, busy, with no time nor inclination for
foolish explorations, to have been found drowned in the disused vat of a half-
tumbled-down old mill on a lonesome and neglected road meant----But what did
it mean? What could it mean? The lowered eyes of those around seemed to
decline to express even a conjecture.
My poor friend, so delicate, so tender, reeled in my arms. "In the vat!" she
reiterated again and again, as if her mind refused to take in a fact so astounding
"Yes, miss, and he might never have been discovered," volunteered a voice at
last, over my shoulder, "if a parcel of school-children hadn't strayed into the mill
this afternoon. It is a dreadful lonesome spot, you see, and----"